Getting Started with Time-Lapse Photography

May 5, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment | |

Tips for shooting time-lapse:

1. Use manual focus. Any moving objects in the scene or lighting changes can throw the auto-focus off. Manual focus also is better for battery power. If you are shooting a landscape or use a wide lens, set the focus to infinity.

2. Avoid auto white-balance. This will prevent color shifts in your final video. Select either a white balance preset or do a custom white balance.

3. If the conditions allow it shoot in Manual exposure mode. This way you won't have flickering in the final result which is caused by inconsistencies of camera metering. You can also control the amount of motion blur when you have moving subjects in your frame. For example if you are shooting moving clouds you'll get very different results by playing with shutter speed. With a slower shutter speed you'll get softer looking clouds with smoother motion, and with a faster shutter speed you'll get sharper and more detailed clouds. None is necessarily better than the other but what's great is you can control it.

4. If you can't shoot in Manual exposure mode (like when you are shooting a scene that goes from day to night) use the Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority instead of Program or full Auto. I recommend using Aperture Priority for most scenarios. For example for scenes with a lot of highlights at night using the Aperture Priority will keep the quality of light consistent. I use Apertures like f/8 or f/9 to get sharp and clear lights in city scenes.

5. Shooting RAW will give you more control at the end but there are a few important things to consider before making that decision. RAW files will be much bigger so you will need more storage when shooting time-lapse. You also need higher end software to process and convert a RAW sequence to a video file (like Adobe After Effects and Premiere). Working with a RAW sequence is also much slower especially if you're using a not-so-fast computer system. If any of these are a concern you might want to shoot JPG instead.

6. Finally you'll need to convert your sequence of images to a video file. There are many options on different systems that range from free tools to more elaborate (and more expensive) editing and compositing packages. If you're using the Windows platform, one of your easiest options is to use the Windows Movie Maker (free). All you need to do is to adjust the default duration of imported images in Windows Movie Maker and then import all your images and drag them in the timeline and save the video file. For MAC you can use Quicktime Pro to import a sequence and save it as a movie. Obviously if you have access to more advanced editing applications like Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut you'll have much more control.

I hope this brief introduction is enough to encourage you to try out time-lapse photography. It's a lot of fun!

Sam Javanrouh - Daily Dose of Imagery

Players from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

Chess players at Dundas Square, Toronto. Shot on Canon 5D with 5 seconds intervals. Exposure of 1 second for each frame. 653 frames shot within about an hour.
Music from Philip Glass' "The Photographer"

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